History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

26 April 2011

Breaking Free

Into every author’s life a little rain must fall. One example is that all-too familiar moment when she – or he – can’t think of a single word to put down on that smug piece of blank paper.

The condition is called writer’s block. For me, it feels as if words are trapped somewhere deep inside my skull. They race around in a mad vortex, desperate to escape but far beyond my reach. My challenge is to break them free – and give me back my sanity. (Something that helps the book would be nice, too.)

Every author has different methods for cracking writer’s block. My recipes include the following.

I usually start by getting a good night’s sleep (which is rare, when I’m doing much writing), followed by a long shower. That works well for simple problems with a book, so much so that I keep pads of paper close by.

Then there are the bigger problems, the ones that make an author pace the floor for days or seek out wise counsel. Thank God for friends; they can solve almost anything.

Bone-deep problems in a book are like an enormous Gordian knot and can’t be solved by friends in a single session. (We have far too much fun talking about other stuff; at least my friends do!)

My favorite recipe for breaking free of writer’s block is to attend a baseball game.

Time stops inside a baseball stadium. The green field could be that of 1870, 1910, or 2011. The game moves according to its own rules, not an arbitrary clock ticking away minutes and seconds. Today’s players are compared against those from decades past.

Somehow watching the men perform their rhythmic, athletic dance across that timeless, verdant field spins my mind into a creative time warp. Half of it stays to watch the game – but half sneaks off to contemplate the problem underlying my writer’s block. And abracadabra, solutions start popping up like baseball players coming to bat.

One baseball game can break me free of writer’s block – and line me up for another huge chunk of writing. Thank God for a change of scene!

What’s your favorite trick for breaking free from writer’s block?

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Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I love baseball, but I don't think it breaks writer's block for me, except insofar as if I don't allow a certain amount of time for relaxation and self-care, my writing inevitably suffers.

Like you, I often get good ideas in the shower, but my main tactic for combating block is to refuse to acknowledge it exists. I recall a Q&A with Bernard Cornwell where he declared there's no such effing thing as writer's block, and the day nurses are allowed to call in with nurse's block is the day a writer gets to use block as an excuse. That might not work for everybody, but I find giving my muse a good shake and telling it to stop being a diva will get my butt into the chair more days than not--and that a month later, I can't tell the difference between pages I ground out while feeling blocked and those that flowed out in a white fire of joyous inspiration.

But the caveat is if I don't take time to relax with non-writing things like baseball and cooking and singing, and if I don't feed the muse with regular reading of history (both related to my books and not) and fun fiction, my creative well is much dryer.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Susanna - So glad to meet another baseball fan! I totally agree that the approach to most things to BICHOK (or, butt in chair, hands on keys), no matter what one's head feels like.

But one does want to this time as productive as possible, whether it's only a few minutes or hours or a full-time author's more flexible schedule. I'd rather pound the keys happily to create new stuff, than rewrite the same old garbage or tear my hair out in frustration while staring at the screen. It's those moments that I refer to as writer's block - and they do manifest themselves differently to different folks.

Regular trips to baseball games - or the movies! - is a wonderful way to keep my creative juices flowing. But Rescue 911, when a scene or section of a book has got me stalled? That's when I look for emergency help, like calling up my wonderful friends, before I spend too long cursing the same page.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I find I suffer from writer's block much less since I gave myself permission to put ***** and move on the the next thing I know how to write (whether it's a new scene or jumping over something within a scene; often I get hung up on something stupid like how to get someone in or out of the room). When I do get stuck, I find it's helpful to make a list of possible approaches to whatever the problem is (even completely crazy, off the wall ideas), and then go work out or clean the house or take a shower. Often the solution falls into place.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Like Tracy, learning to skip over and move on was major. Letting myself write an out of order scene that I can already see also helps. And talking the dog for a walk is pretty much a cure all.

8:50 AM  

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